The image that shook the world

This is the image of Aylan Kurdi, who as was a three-year-old Syrian boy of Kurdish ethnicity. This image made global headlines after he drowned on 2 September 2015 in the Mediterranean Sea. Did the image of Aylan Kurdi’s dead body on a Turkish beach change the way we responded to and ‘saw’ refugees? Can a single picture change the course of history?


Yes, something changed! Suddenly those who detested the demonisation of migrants realised that they were not alone and were more motivated to engage in acts of solidarity. People were more willing to act in public. There were crowds cheering welcoming refugees at Munich station; groups of aid were sent to the Calais camps; impromptu acts of solidarity springing up across Europe; several vigils were organised.

‘’We are not alone!’’ – in feeling this way about the situation of refugees.

‘’We have a collective voice’’ – makes more sense to do more.


Refugees unfortunately, had already been labelled as ‘Not us’ and also ‘pathologised’ as insects and parasites. However, Aylan’s image SHIFTED these terms. Refugees as bogus claimants became ‘real refugees. People started recategorising the term ‘refugee’. Aylan was a little boy (not just a Syrian refugee); Abdullah Kurdi was his father (not just a Syrian refugee). Refugees were then recategorsied as less alien, less toxic, members of same groups as ‘US”.


Therefore, there was no longer US vs. THEM; but refugees became ‘’US’’.

‘’So, language – and more specifically the way we use terms that categorise people as either ‘or us’ or as ‘other’ – is critical to our responses. As long as we describe current events as a ‘migrant crisis’ we perpetuate rather than address the issues. And certainly, a migrant is not a migrant by any other name. Or when endowed with a name. Aylan.’’ – (Reicher & Haslam, 2015).


But now, 5 years later, where are we? Has the situation of refugees improved? Has EU opened its ports? Have people stopped labelling refugees as terrorists? We still have so much more work to do, and we NEED YOU to help us, and join the movement with us.

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